Friday, July 8, 2011

Google+ and What it (Might) Mean for Libraries

What is Google+?

On June 28, Google launched Google+, their kick at the social media can and challenge to Facebook’s dominance. Some of you may have noticed the black bar that at the top of the Google search page, which effectively serves as the gateway to Google+. While there was no official announcement of this product and admission is currently by invitation only, the introduction of this tool may serve to shake up the social media landscape.

What does it do?

As far as can tell/have read, Google+ functions and looks quite a bit like Facebook, with some unique features that Google is hoping will catapult its product into the wider world. Here are some of the more popular features that the online world is buzzing about:

Circles: "Circles" are Google’s answer to Facebook’s somewhat awkward arrangement of “Friends.” Instead of lumping everyone you’ve connected with into one group, you can place people into affiliations that more accurately reflect your life – acquaintances, co-workers, family, etc. While this feature already exists in Facebook, Google+ is suppose to make these groupings easier and allow you to more selectively distribute information to contacts.

Hangouts: Using Hangouts, you can host a group video chat with people your connected to on Google+. You can hold a chat with up to 10 people and the picture focuses in on whoever is speaking so no one ends up controlling the conversation/camera. This feature is, however, assumes that everyone who you wish to speak will be on a high-speed connection.

Sparks – Sort of like Facebook’s “Like,” “Join,” and listing of your interests combined, Google+ lets you search for items on the web that you have an interest in. These items can be anything – blog post, videos, books. When you find an item you like, you simply link it to your profile and connect yourself with whatever interests you.

There are other aspects of this new product, but a simple search of articles (through Google-controlled results of course) will give you articles and videos that detail this release in full. These are merely some of the top features being lauded.

How will it effect libraries?

Since Google+ is in its infancy, it is really hard to say right now. Overall response to it has been lukewarm, but that might just be because Google is venturing into a sector that Facebook controls. The catch will be in convincing Facebook users that they actually have something to gain by moving over to Google+ and, as far as I can tell, this will only happen when mass migration begins. With libraries that have Facebook pages, it will be time to move to a new platform when it’s all your patrons can talk about, if it comes to that. Since most organizations were not quick to jump on Facebook, it will be fine to gauge public interest and move later in the game.

The other reason that libraries should be aware of this development is because of the new data source this product gives Google. Already there is a lot of anxiety around how much information Google creates and controls in general, such as Google Books, search results, and page rank. Patrick Sweeney details some of these concerns in his blog post “Could Google+ Ruin Your Online Personal Brand?”

More or less though, it is probably just good for libraries to know that Google+ is out there. When a company with this much clout in the information world rolls out a product that they have high hopes for, it is good to be alert. Only time will tell though if it will really matter.

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